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A Step in the Right Direction: Lifting the Ban on Iranian Women Entering Stadiums

By Nicholas Khazamipour*

Throughout history, women have been repressed by restrictions on women’s rights. Although some parts of the world have progressively changed, there are still countries that severely restrict women’s rights.  Iran, for example, has banned women from all types of sports stadiums, including volleyball, which is one of Iran’s national obsessions next to soccer.[1]  Iranian women face other restrictions: they are forced to wear hijabs in public, they may not leave the country without permission from their husbands, and they are required to seek the approval of a male guardian before marriage.[2]

The irony of the ban is that one of the major stadiums in Iran is called the Azadi Stadium. “Azadi” is a word in Farsi, which translates to “freedom,” of which there is little for Iranian women.[3]  The ban on Iranian women entering stadiums should be lifted and should set an example for other countries that still restrict women’s rights.[4]

The Ban 

The government initiated the ban after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and its purpose was to prevent Iranian women from entering stadiums in Iran.[5]  The ban initially prevented Iranian women from attending soccer matches in stadiums.[6]  The ban was further extended to volleyball matches in 2012.[7]  The fight for lifting the ban has been quite arduous as pro-gender equality advocates are up against a notion of gender equality as unacceptable to the Islamic Republic.[8]  Although the Iranian Supreme Leader holds this belief, people such as the current Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, Iranian athletes, and parliament members have advocated for women to be allowed into stadiums.[9]  In 2006, former Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, lifted the ban, but the Supreme Leader quickly restored the prohibition.[10]  As a result of the ban, there have been cases where Iranian authorities have arrested and detained women who gathered in front of stadiums to seek admission.[11]

Actions Taken Against the Ban So Far

The Iranian legal regime is different from that of the United States because it is structured as a civil law system based on the French model.[12]  This means that the vast history on discrimination against women in the United States cannot be applied to Iranian law, but it can be looked at as a persuasive source of support. International law should inform efforts to help lift the ban. Unfortunately, although the United Nations exists, there is currently no entity that has the power to enforce international or human rights law upon Iran.[13]  Therefore, human rights advocates must seek the aid of international sports federations to persuade Iran to lift the ban.[14]

So far, in the fight against the ban, an organization known as Human Rights Watch has launched a campaign to support Iranian women by asking the International Volleyball Federation (“FIVB”) to agree not to allow Iran to host future volleyball tournaments, unless Iranian women are allowed to attend.[15]  Iranian women and human rights organizations have also tried using direct appeals to the International Federation of Football Associations (“FIFA”) and FIVB to reverse the ban.[16]  Additionally, advocates have written an open letter to FIFA asking that FIFA demand that Iran lift the ban on women.[17]

Progress as a Result of Actions Taken Against the Ban

Fortunately, some progress has been made.  Recently, during the 2018 World Cup, authorities opened up the doors of the Azadi Stadium for both women and men to watch a live screening of Iran’s national football team playing its matches.[18]  Furthermore, through pre-vetting by Iranian authorities, a limited number of women were allowed to attend volleyball matches in the Azadi Stadium starting in 2017.[19]  While this is a positive step forward, the ban is still upheld in Iran.[20]

Actions That Should Be Taken Moving Forward

Moving forward, advocates can keep reaching out to FIFA and FIVB to urge them to uphold their own rules that prevent gender discrimination.[21]  For instance, Article Three of the FIFA Statute states that “discrimination of any kind is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”[22]  Furthermore, the United Nations Security Council should have its powers expanded to enforce international and human rights laws.  Besides these solutions, human rights lawyers can use history and cases from the United States and other countries such as Israel to try and persuade Iran’s Supreme Leader to lift the ban.[23]



* Iranian-American, Staff Writer, Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, J.D. Candidate, May 2020, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law


[1] See Women’s Rights in Iran, Human Rights Watch (Oct. 28, 2015, 12:25 PM), (providing that ban has restricted women in Iran).

[2] See id. (stating other ways Iranian women have been restricted).

[3] See Amy Braunschweiger, Banned from Stadiums for Being a Woman in Iran, Human Rights Watch (June 30, 2016, 2:10 PM), (explaining irony of country that has limited freedom of their women yet has stadium known as “Freedom Stadium”).

[4] See Caitlin Dewey, 7 Ridiculous Restriction on Women’s Rights Around the World, The Washington Post (Oct. 27, 2013), (stating other countries that still restrict women’s rights such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Ecuador).

[5] See Patrick Reevell, Banned from Stadiums at Home, Iranian Women Attend World Cup Matches in Russia, ABC News (June 22, 2018, 3:38 PM), (describing purpose of ban deriving from Iran’s theocracy under Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, which went back to Islamic traditions, and separates sexes due to religion).

[6] See Madeleine Ngo, Iranian Women Watched the World Cup in a Stadium for the First Time in Nearly 40 Years, Vox (June 21, 2018, 2:20 PM), (stating Iranian women were initially banned from soccer stadiums).

[7] See Iran: Progress on Ban for Women at Stadiums, Human Rights Watch (June 28, 2018, 12:00 AM), (stating ban was extended to volleyball tournaments).

[8] See Challenging Iran’s Women’s Rights Narrative, CNN (Mar. 24, 2015, 4:55 PM), (stating Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s notion against gender equality).

[9] See Iran: Progress on Ban for Women at Stadiumssupra note 7 (listing advocates against ban).

[10] See Reevell, supra note 5 (explaining ban lifted for brief period of time before restored and showing Supreme Leader of Iran’s higher executive authority than Iran’s President).

[11] See Iran: Progress on Ban for Women at Stadiumssupra note 7 (explaining effects of ban).

[12] See Maliheh Zare, UPDATE: An Overview of Iranian Legal System, Globalex (Aug. 2015), (providing information on Iranian legal system).

[13] See Frederic L. Kirgis,Insights: Enforcing International Law, Am. Soc’y of Int’l Law, (explaining under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Security Council “may determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, and may impose mandatory sanctions to try to rectify the situation.”) Unfortunately, gender inequality has not been seen as a “threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression,” so the UN Security Council cannot impose sanctions. See id.

[14] See Iran: Progress on Ban for Women at Stadiumssupra note 7 (explaining how human rights advocates must proceed when seeking to end ban).

[15] See Women’s Rights in Iransupra note 1 (showing human rights organization advocating for Iranian women by asking FIVB to enforce own rule using #Watch4Women campaign).

[16] See Iran: Progress on Ban for Women at Stadiumssupra note 7 (describing another method through direct appeals in efforts against ban).

[17] See Cristina Maza, Amid World Cup, Iranian Women Demand End to Ban from Stadiums, Newsweek (June, 22 2018, 4:53 PM), (describing method of sending open letters in efforts against ban).

[18] See Zeinab Edah-Tally, For First Time in Decades, Iranian Women Allowed to Enter Football Stadiums, Middle East Eye (Oct. 18, 2018), (marking huge event in progress and efforts to end stadium ban).

[19] See Iran: Progress on Ban for Women at Stadiumssupra note 7 (describing instance where women were allowed into stadium but were still restricted because of pre-vetting process).

[20] See Maza, supra note 17 (stating ban still in place despite efforts against it).

[21] See id.(stating what can be done moving forward in fight to lift ban). 

[22] See Iran: Progress on Ban for Women at Stadiumssupra note 7 (describing FIFA’s statute against discrimination that FIFA is failing to uphold and enforce against Iran).

[23] See generally Saadia Zahidi, Top 10 Most Gender Equal Countries in the Middle East and North Africa, World Econ. Reform (Oct. 28, 2014), (showing list of most progressive Middle Eastern Countries).